No one doubts RZA's encyclopedic passion for chop-socky cinema, but the Wu-Tang mastermind's obsession doesn't fully translate in his sincere, silly and sloppy directorial debut. The Man With the Iron Fists, a Tarantino-approved treatment RZA developed with Eli Roth, lines its slim runtime with so many genre geek touchstones that it's difficult to view it as anything other than a super-fan making a list and seeing what sticks.
The artist serves as narrator and star, a metal worker driven to feudal China via a Blaxploitation-style freed-slave storyline (complete with Pam Grier!). Building weapons for various death squads and slowly saving shillings to flee with his lady (Jamie Chung), the Blacksmith is soon wrapped up in a multi-clan struggle over a haul of government gold, with preposterous characters — ruthless Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), opium-addicted Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), invulnerable Brass Body (Dave Bautista), vengeful X-Blade (Rick Yune) — complicating the proceedings.
RZA can't seem to settle on a pugilistic identity for Fists, resulting in action that's often more disjointed than exhilarating. While there's plenty of campy gore to satisfy that set of appetites, many sequences feature a flat mix of fancy FX work with herky-jerk editing paying homage to the Shaw Brothers era. It doesn't have to be one or the other, but an experienced director would've braided these disparate styles more skillfully.